‘Descendants’ George Clooney, Alexander Payne Say There’s Hope for Adult Dramas

The film weaves together family, history, loyalty and the unwelcome pressures of growing the hell up


George Clooney is on a tear through the festival circuit, proving ubiquitous at screenings for his own “Ides of March” and, on Saturday, for  “The Descendants,” Alexander Payne’s new quiet, family drama.

It screened (an hour late due to tech difficulties) at the Toronto Film Festival on Saturday and left at least some journalists weeping by the end. 

Clooney plays Matt King, a middle-aged father of two in Hawaii. As important as the fact that his wife lies in a coma in the hospital from a boating accident is the fact that his family is one of the oldest and richest in the state. 

The film weaves together family, history, loyalty and the unwelcome pressures of growing the hell up, which always suits the Peter Pan tendencies of Clooney the actor.  


Payne’s subtly comic tones – much reminiscent of “Sideways” – are not what we are used to seeing at the cineplex anymore, and at the press conference on Saturday he said as much. 

“Adult dramas are for the most part not being made,” he said. (Clooney’s “Ides” is another one of the genre, by the way.) “The studios default to larger tentpoles franchises, and larger dollars.” 

He said he hoped people would embrace “The Descendants” – which has quickly surfaced in blogosphere Oscar chatter- and that it would prove that these kinds of films can be lucrative. 

Clooney did a lot of mugging and aw-shucksing at the press conference as for the umpteenth time he was praised by fellow cast members, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller, who play his daughters, as the most generous guy in the business. 

We’re sure he is. But his portrayal of King, like the touching performance two years ago in “Up in the Air,” challenge him to be both funny and real, and eventually pierce through his own easy charm to find the gritty stuff of life. 

By the way, Payne went to “Ides of March” and shared with Clooney at the press conference that he found his directing style had much in common with Steven Soderbergh. 

“There’s a coolness to it, in the color palette and posture of the proceedings that’s redolent of Soderbergh,” he said. “The story gets on with it. It’s efficient filmmaking.”

In hair-trigger self-deprecating mode, Clooney shot back: “So you’re saying I ripped him off.”